MEDIA ANALYSIS: FORUM - Who gains as magazine publishing fragments? Will advertisers and agencies benefit from more niche titles? Alasdair Reid investigates

If you are after evidence of fragmentation in the consumer magazine market, the obvious place to start is the TV listings sector. According to the latest Audit Bureau of Circulations figures, almost all the paid-for titles in this category lost sales except for H. Bauer’s TV Choice, which launched in September and now has an estimated circulation figure of 700,000. The newcomer has grabbed some impressive territory; the rest have retreated.

If you are after evidence of fragmentation in the consumer magazine

market, the obvious place to start is the TV listings sector. According

to the latest Audit Bureau of Circulations figures, almost all the

paid-for titles in this category lost sales except for H. Bauer’s TV

Choice, which launched in September and now has an estimated circulation

figure of 700,000. The newcomer has grabbed some impressive territory;

the rest have retreated.



Put another way: the same pie (or almost the same; total circulation

across the sector was slightly down) has been divided into more bits. A

classic case of fragmentation.



There are all sorts of reasons why you shouldn’t attempt to draw wider

conclusions from anything that happens in the TV listings market. It

peddles value-added lists of data - which is one of the few things the

net is already good at. Then there’s the slow but steady growth in the

use of electronic programme guides on cable and digital satellite.



But we can see accelerating fragmentation in other sectors too. Mature

sectors seem to offer no new growth. Some are buoyed up by one or two

strongly performing titles; others are cannibalised by new entrants -

and there will be even more launch activity this year across the

board.



Have we reached a point where ’me-too’ means less? Can’t publishers grow

the market or are the big players fighting among themselves for market

share while the market as a whole declines? Is fragmentation of concern

to advertisers and agencies?



Paul Keenan, the chief executive of Emap Lifestyle Group, says he did

not recognise the picture of the market painted by the trade press last

week. He says: ’There is a lot of movement in all sectors of the

market.



This has always been a dynamic industry and it’s particularly dynamic at

present. The reader won’t give any time to a magazine if it drops off

the pace. In five years, when there are 200 TV channels, we’ll see some

real fragmentation in TV.’



Keenan says it isn’t impossible to be mass market - FHM, he says, proves

that - but he concedes that it is tough. He believes that what we are

seeing is publishers acknowledging the specific nature of people’s

interests.



They are going narrow and deep rather than broad and shallow. We are

seeing the creation of new markets and new positions. He adds:

’Publishers are opening up niches that may previously have been

unprofitable, offering tightly targeted and defined audiences. The story

is less about numbers and more about relevance. These days, if an

advertiser wants to get its product message across, it has to achieve

cut-through. You use a medium that has real authority, expertise and

context and is absolutely spot on.’



Those on the other side of the fence think the magazine world is less

intellectually dynamic than it would like to believe. Nigel Conway,

client services director of MediaVest, thinks the big publishers are

more obsessed than ever with market share. He says: ’Publishers in

recent years have put more effort into looking at their portfolio of

titles with a view to launching into the gaps. Did Emap want to lose

older Elle readers to She? Of course not - so it launched Red. The

strategy is probably to maintain share and I’d guess that this continues

to remain stable over the years, give or take a few newcomers that

succeed in taking out a few nibbles around the edges.’



Focus. Fragmentation. What’s in a name? But does it benefit advertisers?

Conway says it needn’t be a bad thing. ’The end result is that

advertiser strategies have to evolve. Many of us were brought up to

believe that big was beautiful. Now the numbers are getting smaller but

the trade-off is that you get a more focused product. There are obvious

benefits for targeting and it allows for more involved partnerships

between advertisers and magazines. Advertisers will rethink which titles

they want to support and when they do enter into a relationship it will

involve everything from sponsorship, reader promotions, exhibitions and

licensing agreements. That’s where the opportunities lie.’



Other media specialists are slightly more sceptical. Chris Shaw, the

joint managing director of Universal McCann, says: ’The really clever

publishers realise that consumers increasingly collect content from a

number of sources. One response publishers have is to extend into

distribution channels such as the net. This touches all publishers and

is driven by forces beyond them. They recognise consumers are not

prepared to consume more than they already do.



’Publishers are trying to capitalise on the successes developed by rival

companies. Market sectors are polarising into very successful titles and

those that really struggle. From an advertising point of view, this

fragmentation can be helpful for those who want to narrowcast, but for

others it’s a problem. It makes reaching the same number of people more

expensive. And for publishers, operating costs can start to outweigh

revenues. When that happens, the quality of the product starts to

suffer.’



But Steve Goodman, director of press at MediaCom TMB, thinks reactions

to the latest ABCs were too negative. He says: ’There are lots of great

individual performances out there, most of them proving that if you

invest in a title and give it a new lease of life, people will flock

back to it.



The underlying trends are good, with total circulations level or up.

Fragmentation is a good thing. It’s better for readers and it offers

better pinpointing opportunities for advertisers. These days it’s

possible to run an economical operation on lower print runs and it’s

great that a whole new wave of magazines is coming along too. It’s far

from doom and gloom - I’ve never been more excited about what’s

happening in the publishing business.’



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